Lil Maru wants his own Beatlemania

The original story was published in the print edition of the San Diego Reader in March of 2023.

“Lil Maru” Macias is among the most lit rappers in San Diego — at least, judging by the 19-year-old’s social media. A combination of melodic rapping, singing, and mumbling has pulled the hip-hop artist some staggering internet numbers: as this piece goes to print, his TikTok vids have earned over 12 million plays. “After TikTok, bro, that shit went crazy,” Macias said in a recent On The Radar radio interview. “It went up a different type of way.”

Lil Maru’s stage name is a play on Maru Uchiha, a character in the Naruto anime universe after whom his peers nicknamed him in middle school. His first upload to TikTok was in July, when he posted a 20-second clip from his “On the Block” music video. The post thanked listeners, and was embellished with a “For Your Page” hashtag, which invited folks to reuse and share his work. He then uploaded a shorter clip from the same video, along with a “Who is that?” pop up caption that yielded the answer, “I’m an 18 year-old Mexican artist.”

Thousands of listeners worldwide posted their own TikToks featuring “On the Block,” thanks in part to lyrics like “Ay, I be on the block with my gang, blowing gas / I never liked school, I was always skipping class.” On March 14, Maru’s TikTok included footage of school kids having fun and dancing to the song, along with an older person — perhaps a teacher or parent — who danced in unison with the groms. The 619 rapper’s snippet went viral, and drew widespread attention to his Spotify channel, where listeners could hear his other songs, including “Change Up,” “Been 2 Gone,” and “Save Me.” All told, his Spotify has garnered over 42 million plays. Maru scored an additional seven million plays on YouTube with the full three-and-a-half minute “On the Block” music video. He appears in the video clad in an all-white outfit and an iced-out necklace as he sings on the San Diego streets and alleys with a bottle of Hennessy in hand, rapping lyrics like “You said that’s your girl / then why the hell she at my shows?” His 2021 single “Issues” earned some national press, and he teamed up with fellow local Lil Weirdo on a video for “Money in the Bank.” An EP dropped in late 2022: From Me 2 You.

His videos have racked up around 45 million total YouTube views, which helped bring the “Nothing into Something” artist into stardom; he’s parlayed his fame into sold-out out shows across the country. Lil Maru and fellow San Diegan 22Gfay recently toured 15 cities with GirlzLuhDev for their From Me 2 You tour. Video clips are surfacing online of younger concertgoers stampeding the San Diego rappers.

After a few of Maru’s recent drops, including “Soda Shopping” featuring Fenix Flexin, and “Feel Aight,” some online comments indicate that listeners can’t quite pinpoint his vocals. They wonder if Maru cranks up the Auto-Tune on his computer, if he’s using a vocoder, or if his high-pitched vocals are 100 percent all-natural. And it’s not just teens checking out the bass-infused melodic rap music; millennials are also down. “I don’t know what this [vocal style] is called, but I’m going to say it is Auto-Tune,” says local millennial DJ Ricky ZMan. “Or it could be TC-Helicon VoiceLive, it’s almost like a talk box and Auto-Tune.” ZMan grew up listening to the late Roger Troutman and T-Pain, who similarly altered their voices in their popular tracks. “Maru’s sound, it’s badass,” he concludes.

Maru has mentioned in previous interviews that he was influenced by The Beatles, a unique choice for a Gen Z rapper. To me, he seems not so much swayed by The Beatles’ musical catalogue, but by their pulse-pounding celebrity, the “mania” they were able to inspire. That’s something he aspires to emulate. And judging by the sheer amount of fan response in his online comment sections, Lil Maru may be the next local boy gone global. As he raps in “On the Block,” “I’m a block boy, yeah, I came up from the mud / I’m rapping on the weekends, I just have it in my blood.”